Thunderbolt Target Disk Mode Requires Apple’s Special Cable [Tip]



If you are planning on using Target Disk Mode to boot your Mac equipped with Thunderbolt ports you’ll need Apple’s special Thunderbolt cable in order for it to work. This is required even when connecting two Macs or a Mac to an external Thunderbolt equipped disk drive.

Currently only the 2011 models of the MacBook Pro and iMac support Thunderbolt, but Apple is expected to refresh the remaining models like the MacBook Air soon. You also need to make sure that you are running Mac OS X 10.6.8 and you will also need to install the Thunderbolt firmware update that Apple recently released.

Once you are set up with the proper equipment, OS and firmware updates, and the Thunderbolt cable you are ready to go. You can check out this document for generic information about Target Disk Mode on your Mac. Although this document details Target Disk Mode for Firewire the same steps work for Thunderbolt.







  • aleonell

    Isn’t apple the only one at the moment who sells a cable like this, anyway?

    so.. What’s the problem

  • prof_peabody

    Exactly, what other cables are there?  

    Firewire target mode “required” Apple Firewire cables until someone else started making them also.  

  • Mike Retondo

    Apple sold the first FW cables for $28. sells them for ~$3. Now these cables have a few chips on each end of the cables so there going to cost more but I suspect MonoPrice to have them under $25 and most likely under $20.

  • Tomas

    Next question is how long before Apple or someone else comes up with some way to do Target Disk Mode between a Thunderbolt Mac and a Firewire Mac? Right now there doesn’t seem ANY way to do that… :o(

  • John Cameron

    I can confirm this.  When I first got my 2011 MBP I used a Mini DisplayPort to Mini DisplayPort cable from MonoPrice and it didn’t work when I tried to connect another 2011 MBP in target disk mode.

  • Jack Hickman

    Duh, what else we gonna use?

  • Holio

    David, 20 years of experience and you write this non-story of an article. And no, slow news holiday weekends don’t count. Even for a fluff/filler piece, this is poor.

    Like others have said here, obviously Thunderbolt-based target disk mode will only work with Thunderbolt cables. Obviously. And since Apple is the only one making them, then obviously they are the cables you’d need to buy in order to use this mode. How worthy was it to write this?

  • dcj001

    I tried a coat hanger and some duct tape, and I was unsuccessful too. 

    I guess that David is right when he says that Apple’s Thunderbolt cable is the only way to go, for now.

  • dcj001

    A FireWire cable is one way to do Target Disk Mode between a Thunderbolt Mac and a Firewire Mac.

  • oriorda

    My guess is you were using a wooden coat hanger. Dumbo! Use one of those wire jobbies and you’ll be good to go.

  • DavidWMartin

    Hello. When you write a post you have to think of your entire audience. Not everyone is going to know this kind of thing. A subtle tip here and there might not be helpful to you, but for someone it just might be the thing that saves them a lot of time. People have been asking about Target Disk Mode – does it work? How will it work? Well now you know. Thanks for your comment. 

  • Rob Art Morgan

    Good News: The Thunderbolt cable is available at the Apple Store.
    Bad News: When used for Target Mode, it only transfers at 62 MB/s (or slightly faster than FireWire 800 which transfers at 40MB/s in Target Mode). To see anything close to the theoretical maximum 1250MB/s rate, you need a Thunderbolt RAID enclosure with very fast drives.

  • Mike Rathjen

    You may have forgotten that Thunderbolt uses Mini DisplayPort connectors. So if you had a Macbook Pro with Thunderbolt and used a Mini DisplayPort cable to connect to an external monitor, you’d probably have a $5 Mini DisplayPort cable. And if it fits both ports of your two computers, you’d wonder why it wouldn’t work despite fitting properly. You’d also wonder why the F you’d have to buy an identical-looking cable for $50 from one specific vendor instead of $5 from anywhere else.

    Keep in mind the Thunderbolt port on newer MacBook Pro laptops is in EXACTLY the same location and very closely resembles the Mini DisplayPort on older MacBook Pros. You don’t think ANY confusion could come from this?

    Not only do I think this will be a problem for some people, I could see people trying to use Target Disk Mode by connecting, for example their MacBook Pro Thunderbolt port to a MacBook Pro Display Port or even a Mac Pro video card’s Mini DisplayPort.

    This won’t be a problem for you and me. But still, it’s logical for cables that fit ports perfectly to work. It’s not obvious that it wouldn’t, and you vastly overestimate the knowledge of the masses.

  • warrior555

    I want to erase Lion on my new MacBook Pro laptop with Disk Utility ‘Erase’ on my 24″ iMac and re-install Snow Leopard, however, Disk Utility won’t recognize my Pro when connected with a Sabrent USB cable in target disk mode. Any solutions? The Pro doesn’t have a Firewire port and the iMac doesn’t have a Thunderbolt port. Are we in limbo until Apple catches up?